Unlike previous tobacco company ad campaigns, which have relied upon the industry's own claims, this campaign is based entirely on the statements of the Surgeon General, the FDA, the CDC, and other public health groups. The company's president and chief executive officer stated in a press release announcing the campaign: "We realize that in 2016, we don't enjoy a great deal of public trust. So we're saying 'don't take our word for it, listen to what public health authorities like the Surgeon General have to say.'"
While the actual ad executions to be used in the campaign have yet to be developed, several mock-ups of sample ads showed that the industry's main message is that people should not be deceived into thinking that by switching from smoking to another form of tobacco use they will eliminate their disease risk. One mock-up emphasizes that even if smokers switch to tobacco-free e-cigarettes, they are still at risk of tobacco-related disease. An excerpt from the text of that ad reads:
"Don't believe us. Here is what the Surgeon General has concluded:
Besides nicotine, e-cigarettes can contain harmful and potentially harmful ingredients, including:
- ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs
- flavorants such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease
- volatile organic compounds
- heavy metals, such as nickel, tin, and lead."
"While these products are novel, we know they contain harmful ingredients that are dangerous. Tobacco use among youth and young adults in any form, including e-cigarettes, is not safe."
The tobacco company's director of communications emphasized that: "We agree that all smokers should try to quit. All we are saying is that if someone is unable to quit and makes an informed decision to use a tobacco product, they should understand that all forms of tobacco are unsafe. So whether they are using smokeless tobacco, snus, cigars, e-cigarettes, or the nicotine patch, all tobacco and nicotine products are dangerous."
The same tobacco company also announced that it will initiate a $15 million national campaign to educate youth about the hazards of all nicotine and tobacco use. "Youth need to understand that vaping is not safe. We want all youth to be aware that it doesn't matter whether you smoke, vape, light a cigar, or use a nicotine inhaler. It's all the same. They're all dangerous."
Research has shown that although nicotine is present in cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, and many e-cigarettes, none of these products delivers nicotine as efficiently as the cigarette, which has been perfected over decades to deliver nicotine quickly into the bloodstream and to the brain in a manner which creates a nicotine "hit" that the user experiences to a much greater degree than with other forms of tobacco. The tobacco company's public relations director stated that: "We are absolutely not encouraging anyone to smoke. We just want them to be aware of the facts as laid out clearly by the Surgeon General. All existing alternatives to the cigarette are hazardous. Don't fool yourself by thinking that if you switch from smoking to say, vaping, you are safe. Just be aware that if you make a decision to use nicotine, smoking is clearly the only activity where you will feel the nicotine hit strongly."
In response to this morning's announcement, several anti-tobacco groups were angry and accused the industry of perpetrating a hoax. The newly-named "Campaign for Nicotine-Free Kids" stated in a press release that: "We don't buy the argument that the industry is just trying to educate youth about the dangers of all tobacco products. We think that by emphasizing that all tobacco use is harmful, by lumping in e-cigarettes with real tobacco cigarettes, the industry wants youth to think that smoking does not carry particularly severe health risks. Putting cigarettes in the same category as vaping products and nicotine patches is deceptive and dishonest. The tobacco companies say they have changed, but this demonstrates that the industry is still living in the 20th century."
The Surgeon General's office, responding this morning to criticism of its characterization of electronic cigarettes as a "form of tobacco use," explained its reasoning:
"Whether e-cigarettes contain tobacco or not isn't the issue. The key point is that most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, a chemical that is a central component of tobacco. Any consumed product that contains nicotine represents a form of tobacco use. Given the known effects of nicotine on adolescent brain development, youth should not be using any tobacco product."
The Associated Press compiled a list of products that meet the Surgeon General's definition of a form of tobacco use. They include:
- smokeless tobacco;
- electronic cigarettes;
- other vaping products;
- nicotine patch;
- nicotine gum;
- nicotine inhaler;
- nicotine lozenges;
- green tea; and
- black tea.
The North Carolina Tomato Growers Association reacted angrily to the Associated Press article. A spokesperson for the NCTGA said: "This is really disingenuous. I mean, calling us a form of tobacco use simply because we contain nicotine is ludicrous. Look, the bottom line is we don't contain any tobacco. North Carolina tomatoes are not even grown in the same areas of the state as tobacco. Lumping our products in with cigarettes, which kill hundreds of thousands of Americans each year, is an injustice."
Although a spokesperson for the Long Island Cauliflower Association did not immediately respond, the Association posted on its web site the following statement: "We challenge anyone who declares that cauliflower impairs adolescent brain development to show us the evidence. Yes, cauliflower contains nicotine. We admit that. But it doesn't make us a form of tobacco use. We will take any steps necessary, including legal action, to have our products taken off the Associated Press list."